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Archie Panjabi –Emmy Award Winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

By Sowmya Nandakumar

Archana Kaur Panjabi, (Archie Panjabi), was born on May 31, 1972, in Edgware, Middlesex, England. Her parents, Govind and Padma Panjabi are from India. In an interview to India blogs, NY Times, she mentions that her mom, a school teacher and her dad, a businessman, were completely supportive of her desire to be an actress.

They were extremely open minded in general, embracing the Christian culture, and attending midnight mass at times, and also rooted in their own culture, celebrating Diwali and other Indian festivals, and cooking traditional Indian food.

When Archie was eight her family moved to Mumbai for a short while which gave her the opportunity to experience the land of her origins. She says in an interview to India Blogs NY Times, that she had known when she was quite young that she wanted to act.

Archie Panjabi Accepting the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (The Good Wife, CBS series), in Aug 2010

She took drama lessons outside the UK and in 1985 she got a response from the film East Enders.  Although she had a casting call she did not end up getting the part she was called for, but she got herself an agent and started to look for other roles. In 1989 she was awarded the versatility cup (awarded to the most versatile of all the performers) at a local drama festival. This made her realize that she had the talent to make her dream of becoming an actress come true.

From 1994-99 Panjabi acted in TV mini-series and TV movies including Siren Spirits (1994), Bideshi (1995), Under the Moon (1995), and The Thin Blue Line (1996).

Although most Indian parents do not necessarily encourage their children to pursue a career in acting that easily, according to Panjabi, this was absolutely fine with her parents, but they wanted her to have an education. She graduated from Brunel University with a degree in Management Studies in 1996, when she was 24. In 1998 she married, Rajesh Nihalani, a tailor. In 1999, she acted in her first film, a comedy, East Meets East.

Her big break came in 2002 when she got the role of Pinky Bhamra in Bend it Like Beckham starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightly, directed by Gurindher Chadha. In the film, Pinky (Panjabi) is the elder sister of Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder Nagra). Bend it Like Beckham brought her to the forefront. She acted in a number of television series and TV movies in early 2000, including, Tough Love, My Family, and White Teeth in 2002, This Little Life, and Canterbury Tales in 2003.

In 2004, she played Yasmin Husseini, in the film Yasmin. She is a young Muslim woman living in Britain, who campaigns for the release of her husband who has been detained in a holding center. In 2005 she acted in Constant Gardener, which was her second big break. She also did the TV movie, A Very Social Secretary (2005).

A whole year after Yasmin, Panjabi was recognized for it. She won The Shooting Star Award at the Berlin international film festival in 2005. This award is given to “the most exciting and emerging actors from across Europe”. Panjabi was selected for this award from among hundreds of other actors! For her role in Yasmin, she also won the Best Actress Award at the Reims Film Festival in 2006.

From 2006-2007, she appeared in two episodes of the popular BBC television series, Life on Mars. In 2007, she acted in A Mighty Heart which perhaps furthered her career. The movie was an adaptation of a book by Mariane Pearl, wife of the journalist Daniel Pearl. Panjabi played the role of former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani, starring opposite Angelina Jolie.

In February 2008, Panjabi appeared on the BBC Four World Cinema Award show arguing the merits of five international hits including The Lives of Others and Pan’s Labyrinth with Jonathan Ross and Christopher Eccleston.

In 2009, she started to act in the popular CBS TV series, The Good Wife as Kalinda Sharma. This role won her quite a few accolades: The New York Times Magazine (Sept 11, 2011 edition), in the cover story, named her one of the “Eight Actors Who Turn Television into Art”, Variety named her one of the “Top 10 faces to watch on TV” and finally, Kalinda Sharma probably won her the greatest honor in her career – the 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

Apparently, Panjabi is fantastic with accents from Scottish to Indian to American. In the major film and TV roles she has played, she has had to adapt to accents other than her own.

Archie Panjabi, reportedly, was always told by agents in LA that a person of Indian origin would never quite make it in Hollywood.

With an Emmy Award, some great roles to her credit, and her versatility as an artist, she has certainly proven all those “things they usually say” completely wrong! Kudos to that!


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